Good ideas—for new products, new processes, or new services—are terrible things to waste.
Yet, time and time again, inventions and discoveries that first sprouted in the U.S. have taken root in the factories and economies of other nations. Think of computer-controlled machine tools, solar cells, industrial robots, consumer-electronics devices, lithium-ion batteries . . .
To many, the list is painfully familiar. And the costs are too: lost jobs, shuttered manufacturing plants, withering supply chains, trade deficits, lost opportunities for spin-off technologies, and more.
But wait, a far better story for U.S. manufacturing is beginning to take shape. Over the past five years, U.S. manufacturers have added an average of nearly 15,000 new jobs every month, and exports have grown at an average annual rate of 10 percent—or more than three times faster than the average for the preceding decade.
And now, U.S. industry and the federal government are taking deliberate strides to seize and maintain an innovation advantage in the fiercely competitive global economy. One key step is the establishment of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), accomplished with the inclusion of the bipartisan Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act in the government funding bill passed by Congress last December.
This young partnership, consisting of regional hubs of manufacturing innovation, is devoted to the economy- growing principle that if a technology is invented in the U.S., we should do our very best to make it here. The NNMI institutes will leverage the individual and collective knowledge, talents, capabilities, and resources of industry, university, and government partners. These collaborations will cultivate promising discoveries and ideas into new technologies and into cost-effective ways to convert these innovations into American-made products sold to customers around the world.
There’s no time to waste. The competition has a head start. China, Korea, Germany, Taiwan, and other nations intent on building innovation-driven economies already have mounted major programs and the supporting infrastructure to sustain long-term collaborations—the kind required to speed research breakthroughs into proofs of concept, then prototypes, and, ultimately, manufacturable products and related services.